Encourage your teenaged students to step into the mind of one of their own by adding Stephen Chbosky's epistolary novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, to your syllabus. The book follows a high school freshman named Charlie as he grapples with new experiences and comes to life-changing realizations about himself and others. Chbosky approaches sensitive subject matter realistically by structuring the novel as letters from Charlie to an unidentified stranger that relay his struggles and thoughts, both grand and mundane. This format not only makes the story accessible to reluctant readers; it also calls for reflection on how the letters affect the intensity to which the reader empathizes with and learns from Charlie's experiences.

Beyond typical topics like identity and love, The Perks of Being a Wallflower explores the multifaceted teenaged world through less common themes regarding passivity, music, and the lifelong effects of trauma. Charlie addresses these subjects and more in his letters; however, he does so implicitly. His thoughts move quickly and without reason or further explanation. More often than not, the reader must infer these realizations and opinions, especially in the case of ideas that are difficult for Charlie. Students can use his style of writing to study and appreciate the intricate human experience.

It would be impossible to have a lesson on The Perks of Being a Wallflower without delving into the many references to music and literature. Encourage your students to explore the books and songs that Charlie has and connect these works to themes and motifs in the novel. One example: Facilitate a comparison between Holden in The Catcher in the Rye (one of Charlie's favorites) and Charlie himself. Another possibility: Analyze the lyrics of "Asleep" by the Smiths as evocative of Charlie's dark feelings.

To discover more about Chbosky's powerful exploration of adolescence, read on!

Summary of The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Key Facts

  • Publication Date: 1999
  • Length: 213 pages
  • Lexile® Measure: 720
  • Recommended Grade Band: 10-12
  • ALA Best Books for Young Adults award (2000); ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults award (2002); ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers award (2000); MTV Books' best-selling title (2005); The New York Times noted (2007)

As Charlie enters his freshman year of high school, he starts writing letters to an anonymous friend to deal with his loneliness after the suicide of his best friend, Michael. Charlie's year begins shakily, but he soon befriends a quirky duo—Patrick and Sam—who show him the importance of music, friendship, and participating in life. As Charlie becomes further embedded in his friends' lives, he seems to unravel emotionally. The reader follows Charlie through the school year as he struggles to understand himself, faces new experiences, and presents a uniquely realistic teenage perspective.

Content Warning: This novel addresses sensitive subject matter, including suicide, abortion, drug use, and sexual abuse.

What Your Students Will Love About The Perks of Being a Wallflower

  • The epistolary format
  • The quirky, relatable characters
  • Its realistic portrayal of high school

Students may have problems with:

  • Sensitive subject matter
  • Following Charlie's stream of consciousness writing style

Learning Objectives for The Perks of Being a Wallflower

  • Analyze how the epistolary structure of the novel contributes to the reader's empathy toward Charlie.
  • Describe and defend themes involving friendship, passivity, and the effects of trauma.
  • Trace Charlie's character development as he becomes more comfortable in his identity.
  • Discuss how the songs and books referenced in the novel are thematic to the characters' lives.
  • Elucidate the role of secrecy in Charlie's life.
  • Examine how the style of writing changes based on Charlie's mental state.

Literary Elements in The Perks of Being a Wallflower

  • Allegory
  • Epistolary Narrative
  • Flashback
  • Foreshadowing
  • Imagery
  • References and Allusions
  • Stream of Consciousness
  • Symbolism
  • Theme

Major Themes in The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Friendship — Friendships are crucial in helping characters through hardship. The book also examines how friendships can end or evolve over time.

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Trauma — The novel explores the long-term effects of abusive relationships; Chbosky also demonstrates how friendship and the escape into music and literature can help survivors of abuse cope.

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Literature and Writing — Throughout the book, Charlie uses reading and writing as emotional outlets.

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Other Resources for The Perks of Being a Wallflower